Customer Experience

From the Archives: Customer Experience Strategies with Doug Koob Founder and CEO of Circle Alliances

AskNicely Team

From the archives: frontline evangelist Susanne Axelsson, sits down with Doug Koob, Founder and CEO of Circle Alliances, to delve into the secrets of creating a strong company culture with a people-forward approach to leadership.

Doug Koob: A Journey from Starbucks to Circle Alliances

Doug Koob, a veteran in business development with over 30 years of experience, started his own contracting and consulting company, Circle Alliances, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before embarking on his entrepreneurial journey, Doug played a pivotal role in the success of Starbucks, witnessing its growth from under a hundred stores to a whopping 20,000 during his 23-year tenure. Through his time at Starbucks, he truly realized the importance of a people-first approach, which he’s carried with him throughout his career. 

The Power of Empowerment in Frontline Service

The conversation kicks off with Doug sharing a recent customer experience at LaGuardia Airport, highlighting the importance of empowerment and autonomy in frontline service. Facing potential flight delays due to a Lyft mishap, Doug and his client encountered a shining example of excellent customer service from Wendy at Delta Airlines. Wendy's quick decision-making to accommodate them despite usual “policy and procedure” showcased the impact of empowerment on the customer experience.

Doug emphasizes that empowerment is key in creating a culture where frontline teams feel a sense of ownership. When employees are empowered to make on-the-spot decisions, it often results in a win-win situation for both the customer and the company.

“Give your frontline employees and team members an opportunity to give perspectives and insights, opinions on the strategic direction of the company.”

Doug recounts another recent experience at Sun Mountain Lodge, a resort in Washington State, where he witnessed the power of letting employees bring their whole selves to the job. A genuine and authentic conversation with a team member, John, not only added value but also showcased the importance of allowing individuals to express their authenticity in the workplace.

Starbucks: A Case Study in People-Forward Approach

Reflecting on his extensive tenure at Starbucks, Doug highlights the brand's success in scaling its people-forward approach. Starbucks, under the leadership of Howard Schultz, focused on treating employees as partners and ensuring their voices were heard. This empowerment, combined with a commitment to a people-centric culture, contributed significantly to Starbucks' success in over 75 countries with 300,000 partners.

Doug shares his key takeaways from Starbucks, emphasizing the value of creating a culture that puts people first. Doug stresses the importance of integrating purpose and core values into the fabric of a company, fostering a genuine commitment to both employees and customers.

Doug’s Approach: Rituals, Recognition and a People Forward Approach

Transitioning to strategic planning and business optimization, Doug shares his approach to building company culture through rituals. Drawing inspiration from Starbucks' coffee-tasting ritual, he encourages companies to create meaningful and engaging experiences for their teams. These rituals serve as forums for open communication, enabling employees to share their perspectives and contribute to the company's growth.

“The best companies and the most successful businesses and brands create rituals for their people. And we're all so busy all the time, and so time flies by, a day flies by, sometimes it's like I snap my fingers and the hours just go by. Or a week, or a month, or a quarter, or a year. Rituals help to connect with your team and stay present.”

Doug goes on to say that for too long, frontline employees have been overworked and underappreciated. 

“I know there's a lot of debate about frontline workers today. They are stressed out. They overwork. They are taking on more responsibilities. They're underappreciated. And sometimes they don't even get any feedback and actual acknowledgement for the work they do.”

Highlighting the importance of recognizing frontline excellence, Doug commends Alaska Airlines for its Alaska List initiative. This innovative approach invites customers to acknowledge and recognize employees for exceptional service, fostering a culture of appreciation and feedback.

“When someone in the front line is doing a great job, we really want to show appreciation and recognition. Folks on the frontline have some of the toughest jobs, dealing with complaints and angry customers. So when they do something good, it’s critical to recognize them for the amazing work they do.”

Summing up the conversation, Doug emphasizes the significance of building a people-forward approach internally. By focusing on purpose, core values, and creating rituals that celebrate company culture, businesses can ensure their success in the long run. In a closing note, Doug shares his guiding philosophy: approaching business as an opportunity to collect great friendships. He emphasizes the importance of personal relationships as the foundation of success, shaping a career that feels more like collecting meaningful connections than just a job.

Up Next: Build a Company Culture Obsessed with EX with Samantha Gadd, Founder & CEO Humankind

AskNicely Team
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AskNicely Team

AskNicely Team
About the author

AskNicely Team

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